Pettway clutch, as Bama guns for title

Former walk-on Antoine Pettway made a dream shot Saturday, a layup as time ran out to give Alabama a 65-64 victory over Florida and no worse than a tie for this year's Southeastern Conference regular season championship. <br><br>With time running out freshman guard Earnest Shelton was trapped on the baseline, but found Pettway going towards the basket and got a pass to him for the winning goal before a sold-out Coleman Coliseum crowd of 15,316.

Alabama, ranked fifth in the nation, is now 23-5 overall and 11-3 in SEC play. Florida, ranked eighth in the nation, fell to 20-6 overall and 10-4 in the SEC.

Alabama can clinch the outright SEC and SEC Western Division titles Wednesday when Bama hosts Auburn at 7 p.m

In a pitched battle between two contenders for SEC Player of the Year, Bama's Erwin Dudley came away with a slight statistical lead over the Gator's Udonis Haslem. (Associated Press)

Although Alabama had a five-point lead, 34-29, at halftime, the Gators opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take the lead. Florida would hold as muich as a 13-point lead and with 11:29 still had a double-digit advantage at 53-43. Alabama finally tied the game at 62-62 on a free throw by Erwin Dudley and took the lead at 63-62 when Dudley made the second foul shot with 52 seconds to play. The Gators went up by one with 39 seconds to play and had a chance at victory with a free throw opportunity with 17 seconds to play. But the shot missed, freshman guard Mo Williams ran down the rebound and took it the length of the floor, passing to Shelton, who then hit Pettway.

Pettway, a definite crowd favorite coming off the bench this year, finished the game with eight points, including two big three pointers during the Bama comeback. Junior Kenny Walker finished with 11 points on five-of-eight shooting, and two dunks. "We (the junior class) have been through a lot since our freshman year," said Bama's Rod Grizzard. "We have done well, but we have more work to do."

Shelton, who had 11 points off the bench, said, "I drove to the basket, looked and saw there was only four seconds left. I hit him and he knocked it down. I don't know how he was so wide open. I know Pettway is going to make that shot 10 out of 10 times." It was one of four assists from Shelton.

Alabama was led by center Erwin Dudley, who got slightly the better of it in his duel with fellow SEC Player of the Year candidate Udonis Haslem. Dudley finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Haslem had 11 points and seven rebounds. In addition to Dudley and Shelton, Bama got 11 points from Florida native Kenny Walker and 10 from Rod Grizzard. Pettway had a pair of three-pointers to go with his game-winner and had eight points, all in the second half, indeed all in the final eight-and-a-half minutes. Williams had only three points, but had seven assists.

"This game was a physical war," said Head Coach Mark Gottfried. "It was not a game for the weak. There was a lot of pushing and shoving going on."

Alabama has shot a lot of free throws at home and the fact Bama is an excellent free throw shooting team has helped the Crimson Tide to a number of wins. But that was not the case against the Gators. Although it was a very physical and aggressively-played game, there were not a lot of foul shots. In fact, Florida took and made quite a few more than Alabama. While the Gators were 16-of-23, Alabama had only 14 opportunities, making nine.

In what is rapidly becoming a habit for him, Antoine Pettway once again made the clutch play for the Tide when it counted most. (Associated Press)

The Tide made three more field goals and two more three-point shots, which was the difference in the game. Alabama hit only 47.2 per cent from the field and only 37.5 per cent on three-point shots, while the Gators were good on 50 per cent of their field goals and 33.3 per cent of their treys.

The Gators had a 31-26 advantage in rebounds, but that was partially offset by Florida having 19 turnovers to 16 for Alabama. Both teams had four blocked shots, with the most important one by Bama's Walker against Haslem in the final moments.

Alabama had 34 points in the paint to Florida's 30. The Gators, who had some success with a press against Bama, had 22 points off Alabama's turnovers, but the Tide had 25 points off Florida turnovers. Bama had 15 second chance points, Florida 14. The Gators had four fast break points, while Alabama did not have a fast break score.

Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said, "I'm tremenously proud of our team and our coaching staff. To win a championship, you have to have talent, and we make an effort to recruit talented players. But we also want to recruit talented players with great character. And you don't get down 13 points and come back and win without players who are good people with good character. They gave themselves a chance for success."

The Tide head coach called it "a heck of a game, the most physical game we've played this year." He said that he had a lot of respect for Florida, a team he said has the most talent of any team Alabama has played this year and which he thinks can "go deep" in the NCAA Tournament.

Gottfried said, "We had to win with defense, and they are a hard team to stop." Florida came into the game with a league-leading 83.3 points-per-game average.

The Gators were led by Matt Bonner, who had 18 points and nine rebounds despite missing half the game with foul problems.

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